My parents should have been jailed for child neglect.
At least that’s what would be their fate if I were growing up today. Fortunately for them (and for me), I was a child during the 1970s, a time when kids were (mostly) free to explore the world.
At age seven I was allowed to wander a mile in each direction from my home. By age nine I was exploring the underground sewers and drainage system of Wichita Falls, Texas. When I was a 12 I was given a .22 semi-automatic rifle and allowed to roam the woods all day. I had almost total freedom as long as I agreed to one condition: I had to take my younger brother along with me.
We didn’t have cellphones to serve as electronic leashes; we merely had the setting sun as a guide to when we had to be home. Until dusk, our parents rarely knew where on the planet we were.
As a Gen-Xer I’m probably part of the last generation who had childhoods in which we were free to roam. However, some parents—part of the “free range parenting” movement—are trying to preserve that fading legacy. For their attempts to instill confidence and self-reliance in their children they are increasingly being treated as horrible parents. For example, last year a 10-year old-boy and his 6-year-old sister were walking home from a park in an affluent Maryland suburb. The police stopped them and the parents were investigated for child neglect.
The parents were later cleared of all charges. But it was a wake-up call for many parents about the overreach of government. Since then a few lawmakers—at least at the federal level—have attempted to return some freedom back to parents.
Last week the Senate approved and President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act. Buried halfway in the massive document (on page 858 of 1,061) is a provision that protects a child’s right to walk or bike to school (with the parent’s permission) and protects parents from “civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate.”
The one caveat is that this provision doesn’t trump state or local laws. So it won’t protect parents if local law enforcement wants to arrest them for letting their 8-year-old walk home from school. Still, it’s a positive step forward in the restoration of both common sense and parental rights.
Now we just need Big Brother to pass a law allowing free range kids to roam free from their little brothers.